Agave Growth and Harvesting

06. Planting, Selection & Harvesting

03

Planting

The Weber Blue agave is a variety that no longer grows wild, since its evolution is very much linked to human intervention. Generally speaking, plants can grow in flat areas or valleys or hills with smooth slopes or slides, and they are very adaptable to their surrounding circumstances. According to the CRT, farmers plant about 2,500 to 2,800 plants per hectare (a hectare is about 2.5 acres, or just under 2 American football fields) in the valleys, and in the highlands, farmers plant about 2,800 to 3,000 plants per hectare. 

The highlands have become the preferred area to cultivate blue agave and plants that tend to take an extra year or so to mature — 6 years instead of the 5 it takes in the lowlands. For planting agave, the soil needs the correct impermeability with a pH toward acidity. Sandy or muddy soils are not good for agave, neither are soils that are too thin or swampy. Agave plants do not require irrigation, as they obtain enough water from the soil humidity and natural rainfall; irrigating agave would cause an increase in water content rather than concentration of sugars, which is not ideal for tequila production. Agave plants also need a good amount of sun for photosynthesis to take place, at least 265 – 300 days a year.

JIMADOR A farm worker skilled in harvesting and trimming the pencas to expose the piña of agave plants.

A jimador holding a coa standing in a pathway between agave plants. The plants look as tall as he is, and he is wearing jeans, a cowboy hat, and a white Patron shirt.

brix & art.

The industry measures the BRIX and the ARTs in the Agave as a way to determine how much sugar a plant has and how much tequila could be produced from it. BRIX is the unit of measurement for the solids that are dissolved in a liquid, not necessarily sugars. ART (Total Reductive Sugars) is the most adequate measure to determine how much tequila could be produced. In Blue agave, a good approach to measure the ART is to determine the BRIX with an optic refractometer and then subtract 20% to determine the approximate ARTs.

Selection

Weber Blue agaves reach maturity between 5 and 7 years old. The plants are carefully monitored during this time to ensure they’re healthy and at their peak ripeness when harvested. Experienced farmers will know when the time is right for harvest by looking for certain signs: the color in the base of the plant will start to look more green-yellowish, and the leaves that grow out of the center of the plant will stop growing longer than neighboring leaves and instead the plant will begin to shift its energy into plumping up its core instead of making new leaves. The leaves will start to look heavier. Imagine slowly bringing your arms from straight above your head to a lower and lower position as they grow tired. Not quite droopy,” because they’re still straight, but just not as vertical. As the leaves begin to open up, the tips will also get a little darker and wrinkled. These are some of the many signs that skilled jimadores look for in order to determine when the plant is ripe and ready for harvest.

Harvesting

Once they are ripe enough, the agave plants are harvested by jimadores, or agave harvesters. The craft of the jimador is a traditional, deeply respected skill in Mexico, passed down through the generations from father to son, and skilled jimadores can dislodge and trim a 100 lb. agave plant in mere minutes.

First, the jimador will remove the agave’s long spiky leaves, known as pencas, using a special tool called a coa. These leaves are left behind in the field to be tilled into the soil. Then, the remaining green parts of the cut leaves will be trimmed to reveal the piña (named as such because they resemble a pineapple.) The degree of trimming varies per the preference of every tequila distillery. For Patrón, the pencas are shaved more closely to the piña than is the more common practice in the industry, such that the green parts should measure no more than ⅓ inch or 1 cm in length. Our belief is that this practice removes most of the waxes and chlorophyll that can result in bitter notes in the final distillate. 

To make sure the harvested plants are suitable for use at Patrón, the jimador will test the sugar content of each piña. Only the plants with the highest sugar content are used to make Patrón tequila, with the ideal ART levels averaging around 25 percent. Sometimes piñas also have red spots on the white flesh of the plant — Patrón requires that no more than 20 red spots are present on the plant. The Patrón-perfect piñas are then loaded up for delivery to the distillery for production.

A close up of a coa trimming off the thick leaves of the piña

RASURADA Jimadors remove the penca (leaves), using a special tool called a coa. At Patrón, the piñas are trimmed more closely to than the industry standard.